BWW Review: GHOST THE MUSICAL Captivates at the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse

BWW Review: GHOST THE MUSICAL Captivates at the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse
Sarah Ellis and Derek Carley in the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival's production of Ghost the Musical. Photo by Ron Heerkens Jr..

The Merry-Go-Round Playhouse once again has brought a top-notch group of actors to Broadway in the Finger Lakes and is now thrilling audiences with Ghost the Musical.

Ghost the Musical is based on the classic 1990 film of the name starring Whoopi Goldberg, Patrick Swayze, and Demi Moore. Directed by Stephen Brotebeck, the comedic and passionate musical adaptation features a book and lyrics by Bruce Joel Rubin, along with music and lyrics by Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard.

Like the film, the story centers on the death of Sam Wheat (Derek Carley). He was murdered while walking home with his girlfriend Molly (Sarah Ellis) after a date. Sam's spirit remains on Earth after his death, staying near Molly so he can watch over her. He is not visible to the living, but he does encounter and interacts with other spirits. Sam soon comes to realize that his death was not an accident and that his colleague and supposed friend Carl Bruner (Ben Maters) was involved. Sam knows that Molly is in danger and finds Oda Mae Brown (Allyson Kaye Daniel), a woman that has a gift to hear and connect with spirits, to help him prove his murder and protect the woman he loves.

Under the musical direction of Jeff Theiss, the live orchestra (located behind the stage) brings the passionate and captivating music to life, including the classic song from the film, "Unchained Melody." The energy, passion, and suspense of the story resonate in the music and the choreography by Robin Levine.

The music and story take center stage in this production. Czerton Lim's simple sets allow the actors to easily transition from scene to scene and location to location, including the apartment, subway tunnel, office, and hospital. The set also allows Sam to appear to go through doorways easily. Dan Ozminkowski's lighting makes Sam believable as a Ghost with flashes of light or darkness. The artistic elements of the production all come together to make the various Spirits believable.

Of course, there are the incredible actors that bring the classic story to life on stage with their stellar voices and effortless charm. Derek Carley, as Sam Wheat, is confident, poised, comedic, and charming. His connection to and passion for the character is evident. The chemistry between him and Sarah Ellis (portraying Molly) is evident every moment they are on stage. Their opening duet "Here Right Now" is highly memorable, captivating, and instantly reveals their natural chemistry with one another. However, Carley charms the audience throughout the show due to his effortless connection with every other actor and his likeability, especially as he sings "Unchained Melody." He is perfectly cast as Sam Wheat

Sarah Ellis beautifully portrays Molly. She captures her likeable sweet persona and her voice soars effortlessly in her musical numbers. "Three Little Words," "With You," and "Nothing Stops Another Day," are her standout moments. Her acting is consistently spot on. Her passion for the character is evident as is her chemistry with Derek Carley.

Allyson Kaye Daniel brings perfect comedic timing (enhanced by the perfectly over-the top-costumes by Tiffany Howard) and steals the spotlight every moment she is on stage as Oda Mae Brown. Her facial expressions, vocals, and effortless comedic skills are highly memorable and leave the audience wanting more and more of her character. At the performance I attended, she captivated the audience as soon as she stepped foot on the stage singing "Are You a Believer" with her just as entertaining backup singers/sisters Clara (Aurelia Michael) and Louise (Denielle Marie Gray). The very definition of a character actress, she gave her all in the role leaving the audience hysterically laughing at every line. Her musical number "I'm Outta Here" brought the house down and was one of the best moments of the show.

Ben Maters is appropriately self-absorbed and sly as Carl Bruner. From the start, the audience can tell he is up to no good. Case in point is the musical number "More." "Suspend My Disbelief/I Had a Life" and "Life Turns on a Dime" give him a chance to show off his ability to consistently portray a character, whether in a book scene or a musical number. Perfectly cast, he plays the villain effortlessly and believably.

Other standout actors include Eric Jon Mahlum as the Hospital Ghost who teaches Sam "You Gotta Let Go Now" and that he is in fact a spirit that can't be seen. Adrian Baidooas is mysterious as the Subway Ghost and has a standout moment in "Focus" as he helps Sam move objects. Ceasar F. Barajas is confident as Willie Lopez, the man who actually killed Sam for Carl. He effortlessly executes the fight choreography that he designed.

Ghost the Musical is a definite must-see. There's suspense, a captivating love story, and a lot of effortless comedic charm in this stellar musical production. Whether you are a fan of the film or are not familiar with it, you will fall in love with this entertaining and thrilling stage production.

Running time: Approximately two hours and twenty-five minutes with one fifteen-minute intermission.

Ghost the Musical runs through September 16, 2017 as part of the 2017 Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival at the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse. For tickets and information, click here.


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